My Experience as a Second-Career Student at Princeton Seminary, part 1

May 25, 2013 by
Filed under: Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

I’m a senior at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I’m also a second-career student – my first career was in the Information Technology field for 20 years.  I live off campus at my home near the seminary.  This makes me unusual at PTS.  I’m an odd duck, but this duck has learned to swim.  Hopefully other ducks can learn from my experiences.

This seminary is really set up to provide a residential experience.  The dormitories are surrounding the quad and are near the classroom and other buildings.  The apartment housing is separated from the main campus by several miles, but forms a community of its own.  PTS has intentionally created a residential community where people will interact outside of class as well as inside.  Living off campus I miss some of that.  A duck in another pond, as it were, visiting occasionally.

The student population is overwhelmingly in their twenties.  There is a small but significant percentage of people who are older – anywhere from thirties through sixties – but for the most part the students either came straight from college or had a couple of years between college and seminary.  In my mid-40’s, that makes me unusual.  An older duck.

Last, the seminary does not allow part-time study for the M.Div. degree.  There is limited part-time study for the M.A. degrees.  There are very few evening classes and I have yet to see one designed for Masters’ students.  The expectation is that school is your first priority.

It’s important to know that the seminary knows that it has set things up a certain way, catering to the needs of mostly-younger students who live on campus.  It’s not designed to make things harder for second-career students or to turn them away but we need to realize that we are a small population.  There are beginning to be signs that they recognize the need for part-time studies, and that the percentage of students who are older is increasing.  But so far, it’s a twentysomething full-time on-campus world.

I think that I have found my way through that.  It’s easier for me because my wife works and has a well-paying job, so I am able to attend school full-time without needing a lot of outside work.  It’s also nice to come home to a single-family house rather than a dorm room or apartment on campus.  But I miss things that happen on campus and it’s a different experience.

Here are some thoughts on what you should know and what I recommend that you do if you’re a duck like me, in order to get the fullest experience on campus.  The first thought today, another three in the next post.

One note – there is a lot of “us and them” language below.  It really doesn’t work that way most of the time at school.  It’s more like each of us is at a different place along different spectra – maturity, age, spiritual growth, academic achievement, etc.

1. They’re so YOUNG.  Yeah, they are.  It’s a bit jarring the first time that you have a conversation with someone and realize that they were born after you graduated from high school.  Some of your classmates are about the right age to be your children.  For some older students, their children are older than their classmates.  It takes some getting used to.  You will make references to things from your youth that get blank stares.  You will remember events that were just history book entries for your classmates.

You have something to learn from them.  They speak the language of younger generations, and you will someday minister to those generations.  Many of your younger peers come from college with a Religion degree, while your degree may be in something else entirely (in my case, Computer Science).  They will know things that are really useful in class that you have to catch up on.  They may have greater technological savvy than you do (though maybe not – at seminary we joke that there is no math requirement).

Even more important than that is the fact that we all grow and mature at different rates.  You will be more mature than some of your younger peers.  Some of them may be more mature than you.  All of us are on a journey of growth and discernment of vocation and theology and becoming who God calls us to be.  We are developing our pastoral identities.  We have something to learn from the younger folks, and they have something to learn from us.

So a few things to do.  DO make friends with younger folks.  Try to experience life through their eyes as well as through your own.  You will be helpful with life experience.  They will be helpful with perhaps more energy than you have, and their differing life experiences.  Spend time with them doing what they enjoy.  Introduce them to what you enjoy.  Share common enjoyment.  You’ll find that you learn as much from them as they do from you, and that this a gift to both parties.

DO make friends with the other second-career people on campus.  PTS runs a second-career group (up to 40) and a third-career group (40 and older) through the chapel office.  Take advantage of those lunches.  Find the people that you can talk to when you need to have a conversation without explaining Reagan’s presidency or the Saturday-morning cartoons that you watched when you were a kid.  Find the people who learned to learn the same way that you did so many years ago.  Find the people who share the life stage that you are in, and know what you are dealing with.

This list continues tomorrow with part 2.

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    […] post is a continuation of post 1 from yesterday.  I recommend that you read that post […]

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